The Erbil Plain Archaeological Survey (EPAS) investigates settlement and land use from the Neolithic to the present in the Erbil Governorate of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which includes a large portion of the core of the Assyrian Empire. In seven field seasons, it has documented a broad settlement landscape in a region of great social and political importance, especially in the Bronze and Iron Ages, including 728 archaeological sites. Its field methodology combines traditional surface collection with the use of historical aerial and satellite photographs, mobile GIS, and UAV (drone) photogrammetry. Preliminary results show some unexpected patterns: a high density of culturally Uruk settlements in the fourth millennium B.C., variable urban morphologies in the Early Bronze Age; and large but low-density settlements at the end of the Sasanian period or the early Islamic period. The project is explicitly testing several hypotheses about centralized Neo-Assyrian landscape planning in the imperial core. These hypotheses appear to be confirmed, although the situation was more complex than in surrounding provinces, probably due to the longer history of continuous settlement.
Recently declassified photographs taken by U2 spy planes in the 1950s and 1960s provide an important new source of historical aerial imagery useful for Eurasian archaeology. Like other sources of historical imagery, U2 photos provide a window into the past, before modern agriculture and development destroyed many archaeological sites. U2 imagery is older and in many cases higher resolution than CORONA spy satellite imagery, the other major source of historical imagery for Eurasia, and thus can expand the range of archaeological sites and features that can be studied from an aerial perspective. However, there are significant barriers to finding and retrieving U2 imagery of particular locales, and archaeologists have thus not yet widely used it. In this article, we aim to reduce these barriers by describing the U2 photo dataset and how to access it. We also provide the first spatial index of U2 photos for the Middle East. A brief discussion of archaeological case studies drawn from U2 imagery illustrates its merits and limitations. These case studies include investigations of prehistoric mass-kill hunting traps in eastern Jordan, irrigation systems of the first millennium BC Neo-Assyrian empire in northern Iraq, and twentieth-century marsh communities in southern Iraq.